In memory of Jan Swinnen, 1963 - 2024

JULY 15, 2024

It is with sadness and sorrow that we received the message that our great friend over many years, Jan Swinnen, has passed away in his hometown, Antwerp, Belgium. Jan was recently diagnosed with liver cancer and suffered, during his stay in hospital, a brain haemorrhage. Despite being affected, he remained optimistic and was ready to take the fight of his life. Sadly, that was not to be. 

Jan leaves behind his mother, Lieve, his wife, Andreea, and his daughter, Amber, the person who Jan loved more than anything in the world and who brought Jan such immeasurable pride and happiness, not only by being a highly skilled and determined academic like her father, but being, just as her father, a warm, kind, and attentive person. All of our thoughts are with them and with Jan's other relatives, which also includes Kathy, Jan's former wife and the mother of Amber.

AIJA has, in every sense of the word, lost one of its giants. This speaks less to Jan's XXXL size (with an occasional but temporary, slight, downsizing :) ) than to the person he was and the impact he had on AIJA and its members.

Jan became a member of AIJA in 1996 attending his first congress in Montreux the same year. He immediately made an impression. At the Montreux congress, the Brussels team was candidate to organise the 1999 congress. Part of the congress pitch was the song of Prince, 1999, and the Belgians served the AIJA Executive Committee real Belgian beer (not the imported stuff), and, moreover, Belgian beer that Jan had driven all the way from Belgium to Montreux. With his deep voice and with laughter never far away, he was one of the persons you would remember always, even if you had met him only once. Jan was a key figure in organising the Brussels congress. It was the first AIJA event attended by his daughter Amber. Jan was responsible for organising a fun day out in Antwerp, including summoning two huge falcons; something election candidates Michelle Sindler and Bernard Van Parys will never forget when the birds landed on their gloved arms.

Bernard Van Parys and Maite Mascaro-Mirales (who was then treasurer) immediately noticed Jan and asked him to join the AIJA’s auditors' committee, which met in Brussels to review the accounts and make up the budget once a year. Later, at a winter meeting in the south of Bavaria Jan was asked to stand for treasurer, which Jan with his inexhaustible enthusiasm immediately accepted (perhaps without knowing what he was getting into….). Thus, in 2003 Jan was elected vice-treasurer of AIJA and replaced Maite as treasurer in the Bureau at the following congress, scheduled to take place in Hong Kong, with Claudio Cocuzza as President, Miguel Avillez Pereira as past president, Frans Dyunstee as first vice president and Marc Kerger as general secretary. The year before his election he was – as assistant of Maite – instrumental in relocating the AIJA congress from Hong Kong to Edinburgh, because of the SARS crisis: an adventure very complex and demanding.  

Jan remained a member of the Bureau until retiring at the 2008 annual congress in Paris, serving together over the years also with Nicole Van Ranst, Christian Lundgren, Pär Remnelid, Duarte Athayde, Agnes Proton and Pauliina Tenhunen, throughout the years devotedly assisted by Anne Degimbe. Jan was an excellent tutor to Pauliina who became Jan’s successor in Paris.

Jan was instrumental in taking AIJA to the "next level" among the international lawyers' associations on this world. From its European base, Jan served successive Presidents - perhaps in particular with Frans Duynstee, with whom Jan forged a very special relationship - to build a truly global presence. Frans and Jan both understood that this would require a sound financial platform from which to operate. Over these years, the number of annual AIJA events more than doubled or tripled. Moreover, Jan made sure that the events were profitable for the organisation. It was not always that the local organisers fully appreciated Jan's insistence on not spending moneys for gala events before the buck had been earned. It took diplomacy to keep the organisers - themselves great supporters and enthusiasts of AIJA - happy to continue with their work for free, but Jan's personal warmth did the trick. You could not say "no" when Jan asked - ever so politely, but insistently - to give it another go. This devoted effort ensured that when Jan left the Bureau, AIJA was in a completely different position than it had been a decade earlier. The foundations of AIJA of today were built during the years when Jan was most active.

But he was not only good at in finances; he was also a great singer and dancer: we will always remember his touching song to secretary general Agnes Proton in Budapest 2009 and his dancing moves as one of the The Boys of AIJA at the 2007 Toronto congress in a tribute to Nicole Van Ranst on the music of the Weather Girls' Raining Men. He concluded his performance with the proclamation: “Dancing is my speciality, I have so much rhythm in my body”. Jan - together with outgoing past president, Christian Lundgren - were at the receiving end of Agnes and Pauliina's performance at the Paris congress gala dinner of a song based on the Nael Naim hit “New soul". It left both men in tears. Indeed, Jan could be emotional and was not afraid to show it. 

Saying goodbye to the Bureau did not for Jan mean a goodbye to AIJA. He enjoyed returning to AIJA events, meeting the many, many colleagues from all over the world that became Jan's friends. The last time we had the immense pleasure of being together with Jan at an AIJA event was, very appropriately, in 2022 in Antwerp at the get-together for "AIJA alumnies" (aka those past members who wished they were still "young"). Thinking back today, it is a sad fact that a couple of us in connection with that event travelled to Maastricht with Jan to meet the brothers of Frans Duynstee. Frans passed away almost to the day two years earlier than Jan. Realising today that two members of the informal "Penguins group", that has met over the years in many places around the world - and every 2nd week on Zoom during the Covid lock-down - are no longer among us, is almost unbearable and reminds us all of the short time we are here. 

Jan started as a trainee lawyer with the law firm Lafili & Van Crombrugghe in 1988, where Nicole Van Ranst and Jan became colleagues.

Already during his training as a lawyer, Jan’s excellent verbal skills were recognised and rewarded when he won the Pleading Contest of the Low Countries in The Hague where he represented the Brussels Bar.

In the mid-nineties Jan became the resident partner of his law firm at the Antwerp office, specialising in Employment Law. He formed a strong team with his two other partners Ann Ghijsebrechts and Bieke Noels. They were not only colleague, but the best of friends.

Jan's passing away came much too early. We take comfort, however, that Jan stayed in good spirit until the end. Even more, we are grateful that we met Jan those many years ago and are proud of calling him our very dear "old acquaintance":


For old acquaintance be forgot

And never brought to mind

Should old acquaintance be forgot

In the days of auld lang syne?


For auld lang syne, my dear

For auld lang syne

We'll drink a cup of kindness yet

For the sake of auld lang syne


In honour of the memory of Jan Swinnen, lawyer, Honorary Treasurer of AIJA and the best of friends: May he rest in peace.


On behalf of the many, many AIJA friends and fans of Jan,

Duarte Athayde, Miguel de Avillez Pereira, Claudio Cocuzza, Anne Degimbe, Maite Mascaro-Mirales, Marc Kerger, Christian Lundgren, Agnes Proton, Pär Remnelid, Michelle Sindler, Pauliina Tenhunen and Nicole Van Ranst,


'Believe me, nothing dies in the universe as a whole, but it varies and changes its aspect'. (Ovid)